These days, consumers are perpetually connected, tech-driven, doing more with less, and never more than an arm’s length away from a device that provides them access to everything they need, whenever they need it, wherever they are. The reality is, if they can’t find information the first place they look, they’ll keep looking until they do—because it’s that easy.
Just look at today’s kids. They are digital natives who don’t know the world without smart devices. They were born with the Internet, and the Internet is where they gain the power they need for any purchase, big or small.
How does this impact us as marketers? With consumer behavior evolving at such a rapid pace, speed is of the essence. This requires us to be agile and adaptive to the buyer’s constantly changing needs.
The Empowered Customer
Whether in marketing for a brand, retailer, distributor, or B2B, we must be aware of how consumers shop. So it’s time we provide them with all the necessary tools they need to make the most informed decisions.
Let’s look at how the digital shift happened. A hundred years ago, mass manufacturers held the power in commerce; 50 years ago, the power went to companies that could get products to marketers faster and more efficiently. About 25 to 30 years ago we saw another shift, to companies that made iit possible to produce and distribute information. Fast-forward to the present, and the power has shifted to companies that make products for consumers directly—in particular, consumers who have access to competitive information, pricing information, and peer reviews.
Consumers continually expect more and more out of companies. We see large players, such as Amazon and Nike, setting the bar high. Nike, for example, has introduced its key target audience, athletic consumers, to the Nike Pro-Hijab, which is intended to not only motivate women around the world who wear hijabs to get active, but also tap into their cultural identity. Amazon stays on top of consumer expectations with its same-day and one-day shipping options for those with a Prime membership.
Companies are shifting gears to adapt their selling styles and engage customers the way they expect to be engaged, essentially showing their audiences that they understand what they are looking for and are well-equipped to provide that experience to them.
Connected digital assistants, including Google, Siri, and Alexa, are becoming smarter and more helpful. The artificial intelligence (AI) assistant of the future will only be more conversational, more personalized to preferences and needs, and act as a proxy for consumers when interacting digitally with brands, manufacturers, and retailers. They may even anticipate our next need before we do. The future of buying may well be machine to machine, imitating the interactions between seller and buyer.
According to a recent study, 88% of buyers do their research online before they look to engage with a human representative. Once they decide, many want to purchase online. Only 2% of people are willing to take a cold call from a company. The direct interaction between the seller and the buyer is decreasing. And when there is an interaction, it’s much more consultative in nature, with sellers providing personal experiences and helpful insights about products based on customer analytics.
Now products come to consumers—anywhere and anytime. What if we could take it a step further and bring a product experience to them? Is there a way they can virtually interact with products through any channel, in any place, using all the available data customized to that experience and adapted to their individual buying context? Take Stitch Fix, for example, an online styling service that delivers a personalized shopping experience. Consumers complete their profiles online, and Stitch Fix provides a personal stylist that matches various accessories and items to fit their needs. Customers keeps the items they love and send back what they don’t for a small styling fee.
This is adaptive marketing at its finest. Aside from AI, additional intelligence in marketing comes from constructing customer experiences that adapt to their locations, their devices, their purchase and search histories, their propensity to buy, as well as demographic information. This requires us to create great content through these technologies to present product experiences that drive revenue, satisfaction, and social advocacy.
So What’s Next?
It starts with compiling consumer data into a single repository that allows you to enrich, translate, and distribute product content to all of your current selling channels. This data will also help you prepare for new channels, like conversational selling or augmented reality shopping. You should focus on creating a unified experience for consumers through all stages of their buying journey in order to build trust and encourage them to buy from you.
Start thinking about how to be a catalyst for change management within your organization. Consumers’ expectations are expanding more quickly than most organizations have the capacity to meet, but becoming more agile and responsive to their needs will help determine the winners in the new adaptive economy.